Building relationships for learning: the role of professionals and paraprofessionals in supporting pupils’ learning and social inclusion

  • Mary Doveston

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The focus of this thesis is a series of seven papers published in peer-reviewed journals over the last eleven years. The thesis takes the form of a critical appraisal of published work linking the data collected and conclusions drawn under an overarching critical framework: ‘Building relationships for learning: the role of professionals and paraprofessionals in supporting pupils’ learning and social inclusion.’ In this thesis I argue that the development of positive relationships is at the heart of learning, teaching and social inclusion and I identify two strands in my research which have investigated this issue. Strand One consists of three publications which explored the use of Appreciative Inquiry (Cooperrider & Whitney, 1999) to investigate and improve working relationships in the classroom. Doveston 2007- Paper 3, reported on my first classroom based action research project implemented in 2003 which identified key themes which were subsequently developed in research carried out in 2004 reported in Doveston and Keenaghan 2006- Papers 1 and 2: solution rather than problem focused exploration of capacity for change and growth, collaborative consultation, and skill development. Paper 1 applied the principles of Appreciative Inquiry to propose a theoretical framework for exploring and developing working relationships in the classroom whilst Paper 2 discussed the findings and implications from classroom projects that had utilised the approach. In the second strand, four publications investigated the development of professional and paraprofessional roles to support learning and social inclusion using semi-structured interviews and surveys. Traditionally relationships in the classroom were forged between pupil and pupil, or pupil and teacher. The evolution of the paraprofessional roles of Teaching Assistant, Higher Level Teaching Assistant (HLTA), Learning Mentor and the professional role of the Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCo), have positioned the pupil within what can sometimes be a complex web of relationships. The research uncovered a shared commonality of experiences related to the status and recognition, deployment, and preparedness for the role of the SENCo and paraprofessionals explored in Rose and Doveston 2008- Paper 4, Jones, Doveston and Rose 2009- Paper 5, Devecchi et al., 2012- Paper 6, and Brown and Doveston 2014-Paper 7, which affect their ability to support pupils and teachers. The research was located within a qualitative paradigm and three distinct research methodologies are discernible within the seven papers submitted for PhD by published works: Appreciative Inquiry, Narrative Research and Mixed Methods. The principles of Social Constructionism (Gergen, 1973) underpinned the use of Appreciative Inquiry reported in Strand 1 and Narrative Research (Elliott, 2005) in three papers from Strand 2: Rose and Doveston 2008-Paper 4, Jones, Doveston and Rose 2009-Paper 5, and Devecchi et al., 2012- Paper 6. These research methodologies enabled the gathering of rich qualitative data from pupils and the adults who supported them to illuminate and generate new insights into the complex interplay of factors impacting on learning and social inclusion in school and classroom environments. Two further papers (Devecchi et al., 2012-Paper 6 and Brown and Doveston 2014Paper 7) employed a mixed methods approach although Devecchi et al., also employed semi-structured interviews in Phase 2 of the research project. The generation of both qualitative and quantitative data was pertinent in these two studies. Devecchi et al., 2012- Paper 6 was commissioned research and the funding body required quantitative data to help inform their understanding of how HLTAs were currently employed and deployed. Brown and Doveston 2014-Paper 7, used a survey as a starting point for an evaluation of a training programme whose first cohort contained 97 participants. It was the free text responses, however, which proved the most useful in highlighting issues relating to role and status that impacted on the capacity of SENCos and HLTAs to support learning and social inclusion.
Date of Award2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Northampton
SupervisorSue Ralph (Supervisor) & Richard Rose (Supervisor)

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